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232                                                                                                             B. POLEVO?
trenches", and had she not known that he had been at
the front where one's nerves are put to such a terrific
strain, she would never have forgiven him for it.
"Darling," she wrote, "what kind of love is it that
cannot make sacrifices? There is no such love, dear. If
there is, in my opinion it is not love at all. I haven't
washed for a week, I wear trousers, and boots from
which the toes are sticking out. My face is so sunburnt
that the skin is peeling and underneath it is all rough
and bluish. If I were to come to you now, tired, filthy,
skinny and ugly, would you turn me away, or even
blame me? You silly boy! Whatever happens to you, 1
want you to know that I am waiting for you, whatever
you are like-----I often think of you,   and   until I got
into these 'trenches', where we all sleep like the dead
as soon as we get to our bunks, I often used to dream
about you. I want you to know that as long as I live
somebody will always be waiting for you, always waiting,
whatever you are like.. .. You say that something may
happen to you at the front; but if anything happened
to me in these 'trenches', if I met with an accident and
were crippled, would you turn away from me? Do you
remember, when we were at the apprenticeship school,
we used to solve algebra problems by substitution? Well,
substitute me for yourself and think. If you do that, you
will be ashamed of what you wrote...."
Meresyev sat a long time pondering over this letter.
The sun, dazzlingly reflected in the dark water, was
scorching hot, the reeds rustled, and blue dragon-flies
flitted from one clump of sedge to another. Fleet water-
boatmen on their long, thin legs darted to and fro on
the water among the reeds, leaving a lacelike ruffle on
the smooth surface- Tiny waves silently lapped the sandy
"What is this?" thought Alexei. "Presentiment? Gift
of divination?" "The heart is a soothsayer/' his mother
used to say. Or had the hardships of trench life given
the girl wisdom, and she intuitively understood what he
had not dared to tell her? He read the letter once again.
No, nothing of the kind. This was not presentiment. It
simply an answer to what he had written. And what
was! *                          /